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Being interviewed by Peter Thompson

On Saturday, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Peter Thompson of ABC’s Talking Heads. It happened as part of the Noosa Long Weekend, which is basically a 10 day celebration of culture and the arts. Much to my delight, I was invited this year – in my role as a columnist and author. But, imagine my surprise when I discovered I was to be interviewed for one and half hours by Peter! I was overwhelmed and more than a little nervous.

I had the good fortune to run into Peter, and his lovely partner, Jane in, so appropriately, a bookshop the night before the interview. We sat down together, Jane, my hubby, Stephen, Peter and I and chatted and laughed and shared stories. Peter revelaed that one of the reasons he agreed to interview me was because I once went to the same high school that his daughter now attends: Hornsby Girls High School in Sydney (actually, I was Head Prefect – an honour that, I have subsequently found out, I share with the fantastic crime writer, Katherine Howell and Masterchef winner in 2009, Julie Goodwin! What an alma mater! It was and still is a terrific school). So, I have yet another reason to be thankful to my old school!

Anyhow, catching up with Peter and Jane like that was a great way to break the ice and the one topic that wasn’t mentioned was ‘the interview’. Though, when I did raise it just before we parted, Peter revealed that he liked to let the chat flow organically…. I gulped and smiled and said, ‘what a good idea!’ Thinking, ‘oh dear, I don’t think he means what I do when I say ‘organically’ (messy, natural, as it comes – which, like my eggs, means covered in chicken shit! LOL!). At the back of my mind, I was concerned that the audience, who were paying good money to come and see me, would not be bored or wishing they’d gone to the ‘other’ session (which, frankly, I was very interested in myself!).

I should have had more faith in Peter.

I already ‘knew’ him from his show and understood that he was both warm and charismatic but, it’s testimony to a good interviewer that they bring out the best (and worst) in their subject – that they willingly position themselves as a conduit through which the interviewee exposes themselves.  It requires a complete loss of ego and a readiness to take a back seat – something some interviewers refuse to do as they make every interview about THEM. Not Peter. Smooth yet someone with a great story of his own to tell and brimming with wit and intellect, he nonetheless allowed me to shine.

I sat there, for the entire hour and half (which felt like five minutes) and responded to Peter’s generous and insightful questions, his humour, and intelligent probing about my upbringing, the fact I was sexually abused for years, my stint in the army, my struggles as a single-parent, my love for my partner and children and found myself revealing things I never expected to (and also some I wish I now had, especially after watching Where Are You From? on SBS last night and the Ben Mendelsohn story. I am a direct descendant of Felix Mendlessohn the composer… REALLY! We are Mendlessohns….at least, that’s OUR family story but that’s for another blog!) Yet, I never felt what I was revealing was inappropriate nor, it seemed did the audience.

Those who had come to listen and be part of my conversation with Peter (for that’s what is was, like a catch up with an old friend), were so warm and engaged and just so easy to ‘talk’ to and with. They listened and asked great questions and were so responsive and kind – I can’t thank them enough either.

We discussed my work, my writing, my passion for social justice (though we didn’t call it that),  how I use my ‘voice’ though my words, to draw attention to social issues and challenge people to move out of their comfort zones.

Unfortunately, I know it’s worked when I get a lashing from the public, as I did recently over my Masterchef and twitter column (see,

which has seen me denigrated in the Twitterverse and other fora (as well as supported).

It’s testimony to Peter’s style that, when he asked me about the cancer and I broke down on stage (something I never expected or anticipated), that he gently continued, with such compassion and patience as I collected myself and was handed a wad of tissues (thank you!). It enabled me to talk about my journey, but also my friend Sara’s and our shared, strong belief in talking about these things, on the negative effects of the positive thinking movement and how Sara’s blog on the silence of the dying (see “> or my reference to it in an earlier blog) has given voice to those who do not have one. How, amidst her own pain and grief, she has started such an important conversation.

The time ended on such a warm note – of which I was only really aware when the lovely members of the audience approached me – many wanting to hug me and be held. The feedback was humbling. It was overhwleming in the loveliest of ways.

I want to thank Noosa Long Weekend Festival organisers for inviting me, the staff the the Arts Theatre for looking after me and being so supportive and, most of all, I want to thank Peter, for steering our conversation through gentle and rough waters with boldness, expertise and generosity – and above all for being so kind with me and my story.

What an honour!

Comments: 10


  1. Congratulations Karen. So pleased it went well. I had a little tear reading your blog. Upwards and onwards!

  2. Sounds like an incredible experience, Karen. Wish I could have been there to see it.

  3. Thanks Ally and Tony – it really was. I wish you guys could have been there too. xxx

  4. And more faith in yourself too dear Cuz!…. Congratulations! (and got a chuckle out of the covered egg reference! Ha ha ha!) Miss our chats, you have no idea! xoxox

  5. Ah, thanks darling… and yes – the eggs… and chats 🙁 I will be up for them again soon, I hope! xxxx

  6. Thank you for this blog, Karen. It felt like I was in the room too – Peter seems to be a compassionate, intelligent and warm human being and so are you. That’s why everyone wanted to hug you, Karen!!

  7. Aww, Sheryl – that’s lovely… thank you. It was nice, all these strangers who weren’t strangers. I felt so comforted and loved! xxx

  8. I loved this post, Karen. You’re a really thoughtful person in the real sense of the word. And I would’ve hugged you too, even if I didn’t know you (cause you’re bonza and it’s apparent almost instantly)…Thank you for sharing it. I so wish I could have heard it. I reckon that Peter is a groover and it’s a very big gift people like him have, don’t you think? I actually really love conduit people – they are the veins of humanity. xoxo
    PS: Mendlessohn, huh? I want to hear about that one. I’m apparently related to Thomas Kennelley though I’m sure they got it wrong as I really want to be Oprah’s cousin.

  9. Karen, thanks so much for sharing so much of yourself. You have been through so much inyour life. It is a real encouragement for us who are now struggling with some of the issues you faced much earlier in your journey; and a testament to your inner strength. I sincerely thank you for taking the time to blog.

  10. Dear Karen,
    Congralulations Karen – how exciting (and emotional) it must have been. I was a bit teary reading your blog – I feel it’s a true priveledge to know you. You are a very talented, super intelligent and caring person who is not afraid to share their inmost feelings in the hope that it helps other people – very selfless as it’s not an easy thing to do, to open yourself up. At times I feel very basic and insecure and like we are worlds apart intellectually but I know you never judge people on thier intellectual capabilities, but only on their heart and soul, integrity, morals – you know what I mean – and that’s why I love you so much (from afar these days, but you know you are always in my thoughts) and I thank you so much for your generous time and support many years ago when I was lost and lonely – You were a single mum with 2 little ones, studying and producing shows but you ALWAYS had time for me when I landed on your doorstep unannounced – what goes around comes around and this is your time to shine and received support, hugs , accolades and love. You continue to touch so many people in so many ways xxx


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